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6th July 2012

Managing Alberta’s Wild Horses: A few issues

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What’s all the fuss about?

While some of the wild horse issues of previous years appear to have been resolved, others are still contentious or indeterminate. There is uncertainty within the general public over a) the requirements for getting a license to capture wild horses, and b) the cost of a license to capture the horses, as well as unresolved issues of c) bona fide reasons for capturing the wild horses, d) capture numbers and sustainability, and e) outcomes of capture for the wild horses.

Can anyone get a license to capture wild horses?

The Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development Department manages the capture of wild horses through issuing licenses for finding and trapping the animals. In order to acquire a license, an applicant must provide basic personal information, a description of land owned, and an operational plan.

The operational plan must specify the applicant’s experience in handling horses, the location of the capture area, and a description of the capture method(s). Details of the capture methods must be provided to include type of bait to be used to lure the animals, a summary of equipment and saddle horses to be used in the capture, the feeding program, water facilities, shelter, medical and veterinary care, a description and location of corrals, and the purpose of the horse capture (personal or commercial).

Additional information must be provided in the operational plan to include a description and location of the base camp; a description and location of the facilities used to hold captured horses; transportation vehicles and trailers specifying type, size, and description; and finally, the proposed number of horses to be captured.

Just what does that license cost anyway?

Although various online sources state, apparently erroneously, that there is no cost for a license, this is not always the case, according to the Alberta Government website for Sustainable Resource Development. While the SRD site notes that the Government may waive license fees  “to ensure horses are removed from areas where they are creating a safety hazard”, the license application typically requires submission of $50 and tax, or $52.50 total, albeit for a license to capture a potentially large number of horses.

Why does the Government of Alberta want to have wild horses captured?


The Government provides some key reasons for capturing wild horses, but not everyone agrees with these reasons. Reasons cited by the Government are that horses are affecting the range, wildlife habitat, and forest regeneration. The Government states it is also concerned for the safety of the horses and the public, mentioning that the horses may cause accidents when crossing highways.

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So how many wild horses are really out there?


The answer to this question is fraught with uncertainty.  Some members of the public have been heard to say that there are only between 200 and 300 wild horses left. The Government of Alberta estimates that there are over 750 feral horses, but they admit that it is very difficult to know for sure, since wild horses exist over a very large area and may be difficult to spot in rugged terrain. The Government acknowledges that under the original permitting, approximately 2,000 horses were removed from 1962 to 1972. Despite this rapid decrease in numbers, no quota system exists. The Government maintains, though, that annual counts suggest the wild horses are sustainable under the current removal rate.

Where happens to captured wild horses?

The Government of Alberta admits that once the animals have been inspected and removed, it is difficult to know for certain where they end up.  The Government offers, however, that “most are used by license holders for resale, as packhorses, or as rodeo stock”, and that some are domesticated for “various recreational pursuits”. If any branded horses are captured, Livestock Identification Services Inspectors are to be contacted so that owners can be notified. Presumably, any escaped, unbranded saddle horses can be used or destroyed as the license holder sees fit. Further, under the Stray Animal Act, which applies to wild horses, any dangerous livestock is at risk of destruction and removal if it is found to be trespassing, if there is risk to persons, or if the owner or person last in charge of the animal is unknown, or is unable or unwilling remove the animal.

How else can the wild horses be managed?


While Alberta has made some improvements in the management of wild horses (no snare traps, for example), additional steps must be taken. Some say Alberta must pass protective legislation. Others say that with huge expanses of land in Alberta, it should be possible to create a sanctuary to protect the wild horses. Currently, some wild horses are treated humanely; others are legally destroyed or illegally shot.





Please note:  Wild Horse Awareness Event, July 12, 2012, at Essentia, 1113 Kensington Road, Calgary, AB, T2N 3M1. Refreshments will be served.


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